Mom lost her glasses 2 months ago. I haven’t noticed any difference since then in how well she can see or read. When she started saying that her glasses “didn’t work” anymore, only a month after her last eye exam, I’d been concerned that cognitive barriers were making it difficult and sometimes impossible for her to remember which part of the bifocal lens to look through. She kept throwing the glasses in the trash, thinking it would get me to take her back to the ophthalmologist faster. I knew insurance wouldn’t pay for a quick return and I knew the doctor said she was good for a year, so I was pretty stubborn about it.
Carol Jean was much MORE stubborn than I, though. Feeling wronged, she kept throwing the glasses in the trash. I’m guessing that’s how they finally completely disappeared. The staff must’ve missed them, since they usually fish them back out.
Ever since Mom mostly stopped walking in the late fall, she hasn’t wanted to leave her residence. I honored that all winter, but finally got her the much anticipated eye appointment a few days ago, and decided I could somehow haul her in my car. A staff helped me stuff Mom in the car. Yes, you heard that right- there’s no pretty way to say it: we pushed, poked, prodded, and ultimately STUFFED her into the car. It was an ordeal, despite the slippery seat cover I’d prepared in advance for easy pivoting, etc., mainly because Mom was so tense and was convinced we were trying to kill her.
Once I managed to get her door shut and drove off, Mom seemed enchanted to be out of her facility in the sunlight, watching and trying to describe everything that passed by her passenger window. When we pulled up at the clinic, an angel appeared – a clinic greeter who helped me prepare Mom and the wheelchair for the transfer and stayed with Mom, reassuring her that I hadn’t ditched her forever as she suspected, while I parked.
During the transfer, I realized Mom was soaking wet, right through her super-absorbent generic “Depends”. People reading this post who’ve never been desperate caregiver once or twice probably won’t understand the way the story goes from this point forward, but no way was I going to head back now. Mom had been begging me for this appointment every week for months, nearly bursting into tears each time I said we had to wait.
I wheeled her up to reception for the eye doctor on the 3rd floor and explained to the desk person what had happened, asking if they had any kind of pad or disposable underwear that I could use. This receptionist was the ANTI-angel. She glared at me, looking disgusted, and said “no” coldly, then looked the other way. That was when I noticed that her desk was also check in for UROLOGY. Please!!
I lost my clear thinking at that point- in retrospect I could have recomposed myself and gone to ask one of the urology nurses which probably would have promptly solved the problem. But at the time, in my distress I felt ready to burst into tears or have an angry fit right there until someone would help us. But instead of fight I chose flight, and took Mom into the bathroom to see what kind of improvising I could do myself. She was happy as a clam to be at a doctor’s office and had no idea she was wet. (Mom has always been somewhat of a hypochondriac, most happy in a medical facility.) Fortunately, she didn’t smell at all, and for better or worse the wetness seemed to be drying or reabsorbing somewhat.
When we got out of the bathroom, I had done some wiping and adjusting, but hadn’t improved things much in the wetness department. Mom was still soaked (invisibly so), not stinky, and happy, and the medical assistant was in the process of calling her name to enter the exam room. I wheeled her in, transferred her as quickly as a could with the M.A. spotting for me, and pretended there was no wet spot on the wheelchair pad, which I grabbed and flipped over.
The tests they normally do for vision wouldn’t work with Mom because she couldn’t remember where the nurse instructed her to look and where not to look, even with my constant prompting, and kept getting distracted by other things in the room. The nurse tried using pictures instead of letters, but Mom couldn’t get focused enough to see them in the mirror on the wall either. Finally the nurse gave up and held up her hand. “How many fingers do I have up?”
Mom did great with that. It was comical to see that kind of primal vision test in a state of the art facility. I might have found it more entertaining if I wasn’t worried about Mom’s chair starting to drip onto the floor.
For the close-up test, Mom read the numbers just fine. When the doctor came in, he said that she had the same prescription as he, which wouldn’t necessitate glasses at this point in her life.
“She can see her food, the TV, people around her, and she can read,” he stated. “If she’s not walking on her own, then that’s probably good enough, and it’s probably not worth the hassle of glasses for her.”
I looked at him, ready to counter his assumptions as Mom’s advocate, but then took a breath and realized he wasn’t being condescending. He understood and he made complete sense. Mom would probably just throw out the new glasses when she felt frustrated, even if we didn’t go with bifocals again. She can see what she needs to see, and his recommendation was my recent suspicion anyhow.
We got Mom back into the wheelchair and I was relieved that she’d left no wetness on the vinyl chair, which alerted the nurse about before we left. Once we got into the car, Mom was ready to hit the town, listing all the things she wanted to do out in the community. I felt that I SHOULD take her home and get her cleaned up, but it felt like a huge victory to have her out on a nice day in a pleasant mood, so my inner Thelma and Louise decided we should go for a joyride and try to do everything she wanted to do instead, and forget the rules of hygiene for a couple hours, as long as she was comfortable. I don’t get a full day to dedicate to her very often, and I didn’t know if she’d return to her fear of the outside world again, maybe refusing outings for a month or more.
First, she wanted lunch, so I ran into a nice cafe, got her an incredibly messy salad I knew she’d love, with pecans, apples, cranberries, greens, red onions and goat cheese, and a snickerdoodle for dessert. I then had to stop at the drugstore because all she’ll drink when we’re out is ginger ale. She’ll accept any beverage the staff give her at her place, but it’s ginger ale or nothing when she’s with me. Maybe she knows I’ll pull through. ??
I stayed parked in the sun by the lake and let her devour the salad with her hands in my car. Thankfully I had a towel in there, which I draped from her neck to her knees just in time. She had a ball stuffing it all into her face while I ate the lunch I’d packed, and every once in a while we traded, because whatever I’m eating is almost always more interesting to her.
She next wanted to go shopping at her favorite variety store, which I managed to convince her to stay in the car for while I dashed in for the 3 items she “had to have.”
“I need 5 boxes of softer tissues, gum that won’t stick to my teeth, and a Time magazine, ” she proclaimed.
When I returned she asked if I remembered the notepad and birthday cards. I smiled silently and handed her the bag, which satisfied her for a minute. Then she wanted to go to the “gardens”, so I drove her around the lake, trying to explain why there weren’t any flowers yet, instead pointing out the water and birds, which seemed to please her desire for nature.
Right about then, I realized I was feeling sapped, and needed to get her back home because I still had an hour’s work to get her back to her room, be sure the staff got her fully clean and dry, and deal with a handful of things at her place that needed attention.
Mom was sad to see she was back at the facility and explained that she’d expected that we would’ve hit the mall, but as soon as she was cleaned up and we got her back in her cozy reclining chair in her warm room, she passed out for a hearty nap while I got to work on the projects that needed to be done.
When I kissed her goodbye she woke up and asked me about her glasses. I explained again that she was done with those – didn’t need them anymore.
“Well then, we better make an appointment to go see the eye doctor to check my vision,” she said in her stern mother voice, as if she didn’t trust me to follow through.
At first I slipped into the habit of trying to remind her we just did that, which of course annoyed her. Then I remembered to let her be the mom and agreed that her idea made a lot of sense. “But how about not today,” I added. “We just got home and we’re both exhausted.”
“Alright, but first thing tomorrow,” she answered, barely finishing her sentence before she drifted back to sleep.